July 3, 2008
We are comfortably accommodated in the Taypikala Hotel Lago, with a view of Lake Titicaca. We slept well and didn’t have to rush: we were able to have a leisurely breakfast this morning, as late as 8:00 a.m.!
Today was a very interesting day! We started out at 9:00 am, very late for us – nice! We had an assistant guide today named Edgar, who is from Puno. His English is not nearly as good as Boris’s, and he was sometimes hard to understand, but he used a lot of illustration and gestures to get his point across.
He told us a little about the history of Chucuito, this town we’re staying in. Some of the houses around here look unfinished, with bars sticking out the top. This is intentional! As long as they are unfinished, the owner doesn’t have to pay taxes on them, so they’re often left this way.
We walked to the central square with its topiary garden, and Edgar was saying something that I didn’t catch because my camera was malfunctioning.
However, one thing he pointed out was a brick building off to the left of the square, where he said the Spanish printed money for the entire Viceroyalty of Peru, so Chucuito became known as the place of money.
Sundial in central square of Chucuito
He also talked about education. We passed an elementary school, where children are provided with meals, and we also stepped into the courtyard of a high school.
Students are on a one-week winter break right now. He said that the people in this region of Puno are among the poorest in the country (2nd poorest), but that the state of Puno is very rich in natural resources. Therefore, the government has money to help poor students. If children in elementary school can’t afford uniforms and books, the government will pay for them; however, they will NOT do this for secondary students.
In today’s local paper, Correo, there’s an article about high school students receiving free laptop computers (I think sponsored by Apple), which he showed us later on the bus. Apparently the Puno government will provide each student with a new, slim laptop that runs on solar energy, since many homes don’t have electricity. The students can keep these for an entire school year. Teachers will also get a more deluxe model, which they only have to pay a nominal fee to use for a year.
We then visited the Temple of the Fertility God, right across from our hotel. This Inca ruin contains a courtyard full of phallic symbols, some pointing upward, some downward.
Outside the enclosed area are other small outcrops of rocks, which could have been thrones for nobility to sit on, or perhaps had astronomical uses.
Next to the fertility temple is the Chucuito (Catholic) cathedral.
OAT (Overseas Adventure Travel, our tour company) is big on “discoveries”. Everywhere on this trip, we stop to experience things you might miss if you don’t pay attention, short bus stops to look at something different, basically anything not related to our main destination.
Our first discovery on the way out into the rural area was along the road where two heads had been sculpted into the rock on either side of the road. They were of Manco Capac (first Inca) and Pachamama (Mother Earth).
We then continued out into the countryside, with miles and miles of farmland and small villages. People were hard at work herding sheep and cows, threshing and winnowing grain, or cooking potatoes in their fields in conical shaped mounds made of clods of baked earth, into which they put a fire, fueled with reeds of the same kind used on Lake Titicaca (“totora” reeds grow abundantly there). We later found out how this is done.
Finally we stopped in the middle of farm fields to take pictures. Some people bury their dead in the field and grave markers delineate the edge of their property.
Some people don’t like having their picture taken – we even saw a clump of four schoolgirls who ran to hide their faces against a building as we passed so we wouldn’t take their picture. I remember learning once that some people think you capture their soul when you take their photograph, and I was a bit reluctant to take pictures, even though I wanted to. I tried to be discreet and also selective, asking myself, is it interesting or unique?
Edgar and Boris were talking to a woman and we were told it was OK for us to take her picture if we gave her a tip. Several of us posed with her. She was shy at first, but friendly, and introduced herself as Lidia. She called her children over, who were herding sheep. She has six children but the oldest is away at school. Her 9-year-old son, Alex, came over, and she called her younger daughter, but the child instead ran inside the house.
However, she soon reappeared wearing a colorful new hat that single girls wear. It is made to resemble the national flower “kantu” or “kantuta”. It has a scalloped brim and falls down the girl’s back, and is knit in many beautiful colors.
The little girl’s name was Silvia and she’s six years old. There is another sister too, but she stayed in the field.
Lidia invited us in to see her home, but we stayed in the courtyard, onto which face 3 rooms, the kitchen on the left, and two bedrooms (front and right), one for the “family” and the other for the “children.”
Apparently this was a spontaneous visit – Edgar and Boris had never met these people before, but now they have established a contact and may be able to use them for other OAT tour visits.
Our next stop was to climb up a steep and rocky hillside! I took my bag with me this time, because we were going to spend 45 minutes there and I figured there’d be people to give tips to, or something to buy. I often had to stop along the way up in order to catch my breath – the climb was steep and the air thin at this altitude of 13,000 feet!
At the top, I reached the stone arch that stood there and the sight below was absolutely gorgeous – Lake Titicaca shimmered dark blue below us, with features of islands and peninsulas, as well as a distant line of snowcapped mountains!
On the way down, people were gathering to take pictures and to listen to Edgar explaining the geography. He used a stick to draw on a flat slab of rock and small stones to mark important places.
He made three connecting circles, the largest being in the middle. This represented Lake Titicaca. The smaller circles on each side were bays bordered by peninsulas. He put a small stone on the near side of the small circle on the left, to mark where we were. In this small circle, he placed a stone to represent the Uros Islands, which we will visit tomorrow. The people who live on these floating islands speak Aymara. On the southwest side of the large circle (the main part of the lake) he placed another stone to represent Taquile Island, which we’ll also visit tomorrow, where the people speak Quechua.
Diagonally across the middle of the large circle he drew a line to mark the boundary with Bolivia. (Boris had said the lake is split between the two countries – Peru has the “Titi” and Bolivia has the “caca”!). Finally he placed two stones side by side in the smaller circle on the right (in Bolivian territory) which represent the two sacred islands of the Incas, the Island of the Sun and the Island of the Moon. According to the Inca creation story, these islands gave rise to the origin of their people.
Along each side of his rudimentary lake diagram, Edgar drew a line. The line closest to us represented the Western Range of the Andes, and the line on the far side of the lake was the Eastern Range. The two lines met north of the lake at the Continental Divide, the mountain pass which we had crossed on our bus ride from Cusco to Puno at La Raya. About five rivers empty into Lake Titicaca, but only one river empties the lake into the Pacific Ocean. North of the Continental Divide, rivers that originate in the Andes empty into the Amazon.
Boris had told me about a peak in Bolivia that can sometimes be seen from Lake Titicaca, the second highest peak in the Andes, called “Illimani”. It means “the light of the world.” So I now understand the name of the Chilean folk group that I have always liked, Inti-Illimani: “Sun, the light of the world.”
Edgar’s diagram and explanation was a good introduction to orient us about Lake Titicaca. We continued our descent to the fields and roads below, where our bus was waiting.
NEXT: In the afternoon, we have lunch and spend time in a rural village.